They aren't fast, they aren't pretty, and they seldom connect to your stereo as nicely as you would like, but CD-ROMs are here to stay. They have found a niche in the market despite their many limitations because they provide an excellent way to disseminate lots of information cheaply. Someone at Macworld Expo in Boston was advertising a monthly CD-ROM disk, much like a monthly magazine (you thought wading through several hundred pages of Macworld or MacUser was hard, try making it through 650 megs of a CD-ROM). More reasonable uses of CD-ROMs are massive publishing projects for static information, such as parts lists and the like.
The news is that Apple is going to step up the incentive to buy a CD-ROM player sometime next year by introducing a new, cheaper model and lowering the price on the current CD-ROM player. The cheaper model might even be included internally in future Macintosh models. That's kind of cool, but not all that impressive, other than that you might have a use for the $500 that's burning a small hole in your checking account. No, the real scoop - and we hope that it is true - is that Apple will introduce at some point next year (note the ambiguous date) a CD-ROM player (oh boy, another one) having an access time of 28 milliseconds. "Big deal," you say, "my Quantum 105 is 19 milliseconds." Yes, but can your Quantum 105 read any CD-ROM disk, all 650 megabytes of it? Didn't think so. The fastest of the CD-ROM drives these days have around a 350 millisecond access time, which is pretty poky.
This drive would be impressive if it were to happen, so I asked a knowledgeable friend if it could be done. He's not a CD-ROM expert, but he thought that the main problem was in the stepper motor and its control circuitry. Essentially, stepper motors work slowly in audio CD-ROM drives because there is no reason for them to step quickly. However, if a faster, more powerful stepper motor was used in conjunction with a well-designed microcontroller, a 28 millisecond speed would be theoretically possible.
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor